The Last Seven … Chorale Cantatas of 1725

On Sunday January 14, 1725, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Bach performed Cantata 3 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid. I discussed this cantata in great detail two years ago, so I gladly refer you to that blog post. Even if you already read it at the time, you will hear this cantata in a new light, knowing a little bit more and/or having listened to the cantatas that came before this one in the 1724/1725 chorale cantata cycle. I also added a YouTube link and updated a few other links.

Around this time in 1725, Bach most likely intended to keep writing a new chorale cantata every Sunday until Trinity, according to the “system” he had started on June 11, 1724, so he would complete a full cycle of these.

But things would not go as planned, and he would write only six more chorale cantatas this year … Keep following this blog to find out what happened.

Coming up:

January 21: Cantata 111 Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit for the third Sunday after Epiphany

January 28: Cantata 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn for Septuagesima Sunday (the third Sunday before Lent)

January 31: would the sudden death of a friend change things for the immediate future?

Friday February 2: Cantata 125 Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin for the Purification of Mary / Presentation at the Temple

February 4: Cantata 126 Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort for Sexagesima Sunday (the second Sunday before Lent)

February 11: Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott for Estomihi Sunday (the Sunday before Lent).

March 25: Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern for the Annunciation of Mary.

There were no other cantatas during Lent (the 40 days before Easter). This period was considered a tempus clausum (“closed time”) for the churches in Leipzig, which meant no figural music during services, only chorale-singing. A good time for Bach to … take a break? Ha! he was most probably incapable of doing such a thing. He used this time to considerably revise his St. John Passion from last year, and write an entire Easter Oratorio.

Wieneke Gorter, January 10, 2018

Discovering a recycled aria

Dürer Jesus among the Doctors

Christ among the Doctors by Dürer, 1506. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain

It seems I have discovered something this week.

As far as I can tell, no other Bach scholar has ever pointed out that Bach recycled the 10-minute long, slow but impressive aria for tenor and flute from Cantata 114 (October 1, 1724), into a much faster paced, condensed piece of drama for tenor and oboe d’amore in Cantata 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht for January 7, 1725.

This past October, I dedicated almost an entire post to that 10-minute long aria for tenor and flute. Listen to the aria here and read the post from October 7 here. The aria lived in my head for a long time after I wrote that post. I think it probably lived in Bach’s head longer: for the entire fall of 1724 and even into the Christmas season. Not even the timpani and trumpets of the New Year’s cantata would make it go way. He had to use it again, it was too beautiful for it to be only used once a year.

We don’t know. Perhaps Bach was simply a bit tired from all the composing, rehearsing, and performing of six cantatas in two weeks, and went looking for inspiration in his stack of previously composed cantatas.

There is a great live performance of Cantata 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht by Solistenensemble Stimmkunst / Stiftsbarock Stuttgart on YouTube. Watch it/listen to it via the playlist I created to combine their four separate videos. Soloists are, in order of appearance: Thomas Meraner, oboe; Daniel Schreiber, tenor (movement 2); Andreas Weller, tenor (3); Matthias Horn, bass (4); Fanie Antonelou, soprano and Lena Sutor-Wernich, alto (5).

Find the German texts with English translations here, and the score here.

As I was listening to the tenor aria, I didn’t immediately realize it was based on the flute aria from Cantata 114. I just knew I had heard this music before, and I also was 100% certain the first line of text of the original had the word Jammertal in it*. I went searching for it online, but could not find it. So I decided to ask Eduard van Hengel. He emailed me back within a day, saying: “yes! BWV 114/2.” He has all Bach’s cantata librettos on his computer, so he could do a simple word search. Another result of Eduard’s word search: Jammertal shows up five times in Bach’s entire cantata oeuvre.

It is not so strange that Bach wanted to create a very dramatic tenor aria. He did the same on this Sunday one year earlier, in 1724, in Cantata 154. Learn more about that in my blog post from two years ago. It was all to illustrate the agony of Jesus’ parents when their teenage son didn’t think to tell them that he was going to stay behind in the Temple during their visit to Jerusalem.

Wieneke Gorter, January 6, 2018.

*This is usually how I find out about Bach’s recycling tricks, because I remember a word or two from the original text when I hear the recycled music. That is also how I realized that Bach might have been inspired by Telemann when writing Cantata 8.

Naming the baby six days late


The Adoration of the Magi by Lorenzo Monaco, 1420–1422. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Today is the second anniversary of my Weekly Cantata blog! It all started with a broken dishwasher. Read my story on how this blog came to be here.

Bach must have been exhausted by this time in 1725, having performed six brand-new cantatas in one week, most of them twice a day, in the St. Thomas Church as well as the St. Nicholas Church. I assume he used his “time off” during Advent to work ahead to compose the cantatas, but how soon he had each of them ready and when he rehearsed them with choir and orchestra, we don’t know.

Still he stays fully committed to his (probably self-imposed) plan to write every cantata this 1724/1725 season as a chorale cantata.  For Epiphany (Three Kings Day, January 6) 1725 he composed the exquisite Cantata 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen.

On New Year’s Day 1725 he didn’t refer at all to the usual theme for that day, the naming of Jesus. Thus I don’t think it is a coincidence that for today he chose a chorale that does refer to that story, it even has the name in the title: Immanuel. Having followed Bach’s chorale cantatas in the order they were created since June 18 last year, I am now extra moved by the instrumental “announcements” of the chorale melody in the opening chorus, played by the winds. The congregations in Leipzig, who knew their chorales very well, would have known what was coming by just hearing those few notes.

I already wrote about this Cantata 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen in my very first post on this blog, so in the spirit of celebrating the second anniversary, I gladly refer you to that post, where you will also find updated links to recordings and texts.

Wieneke Gorter, January 2, 2017




It all started with a broken dishwasher (the story of how this blog came to be)


With everyone in my house going back to work and school this week, I was reminded on Tuesday of how I started this blog two years ago, and thought you might like to know the story too.

Even before my mother’s passing in 2010, I had been playing with the idea of sharing my family’s knowledge of Bach cantatas. I would sometimes brainstorm about it with friends, but had no concrete ideas, and never really felt a spark. A personality that favors taking care of others instead of doing my own thing and a love for traveling made me always “too busy” with music admin jobs, music PR jobs, taking care of my family, helping friends, doing volunteer work at my kids’ schools, and planning trips.

Since my mother’s passing, I felt a stronger sense of wanting to share her legacy of filling the house with the appropriate Bach cantata every Sunday and holiday of the year (read more about my mother’s weekly routine in this post). So I would now and then share Bach cantata recordings on Facebook, or play them in the car for my friends on the way to a California Bach Society rehearsal.

However, sharing on Facebook turned out to be a lousy way to preserve a legacy. Several friends and relatives are not on Facebook, so I would have to remind myself to email them the same YouTube links and stories, which was extra work. Also, Facebook posts don’t really allow for long stories, and are hard to find a few weeks or several months later. But perhaps most importantly, I realized that even I only knew a small part of Bach’s cantatas, namely only my mother’s favorites. I discovered that for several Sundays of the year there were one to three other cantatas I didn’t know at all and wanted to get to know better. Slowly an idea started to form in the background of my brain that I should probably start a website about it.

Talking about my brain – it wasn’t working so well for a few months in 2014 because of a concussion. For weeks I couldn’t read or even listen to music. I only listened to audio books. For months I had trouble looking at a screen and for about 18 months I couldn’t be in a loud room. I cut back on work, got some good practice in saying “no” and slowing down, and started to take better care of myself. In that process, about a year after the concussion, both my teenage son and I learned that certain foods didn’t agree so well with our bodies. Especially because of the hungry teenager now also needing a new diet, I taught myself to cook and bake delicious meals and sweets without those foods. I even thought I wanted to make it my job to share that with other people. The idea of starting “my own thing” was exhilarating.

Several things happened in the fall of 2015 that made me hesitate a bit about my potential culinary enterprise. I wondered where my passion for music would be in my “new career.” However the baking and the music didn’t come to a full clash in my head until the holiday break of 2015/2016. While the kids and I were creating the most delicious gluten free and dairy free sweets for days in a row, and I was truly enjoying spending time with my kids this way, I kept feeling more and more frustrated. I had not been sharing anything at all of the densely packed treasure trove of Bach cantatas for the three Christmas Days, the Sunday after Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Then the dishwasher broke.

We went to shop for a fancy new one in the last days of 2015, but it would take about four weeks before it would be installed. So on Monday January 4, 2016, when the kids went back to school and my husband went back to work, I realized I needed to do something positive to not be defeated by the daily pile of dishes I would now need to wash in the morning (I only have a small kitchen, can’t think straight if there’s too much clutter in the kitchen, and I was still doing a lot of cooking and baking). I needed to listen to something that would keep my brain engaged at this prime thinking time in the morning. Some of my audio books? Podcasts? Nah. It took only a few minutes for the light to come on: Bach cantatas!

I started doing the dishes while listening to different recordings of cantata 65 and 123, every now and then walking over to a note book I had open on my desk to write down my thoughts. It worked, and I got very excited. The next morning I did the same. After that, it only took a few hours to set up this WordPress site and purchase the domain. I started writing the first blog post, thinking “it has to go live tomorrow, on Epiphany, or otherwise it won’t work,” but still didn’t tell anyone. I finished writing on Wednesday January 6 but was terrified to go “live” with it. I waited until my husband came home. He said “would you like me to read it?,”  dropped everything, sat down to read, told me the language would still be as strong without the one negative paragraph I was nervous about, so I took that one out (and made the decision to always steer clear of negative reviews) and then I published it. The positive feedback from friends and relatives in the days following the publication was overwhelming, and exactly the push I needed to keep going!

That was 103 posts ago, and I am still excited to research and write, and so grateful for all the support and positive feedback I’ve been getting from friends, relatives, friends of friends, and complete strangers. I feel it has also helped me process the loss of my mother. I still can’t believe that people all over the world read this blog, from fellow Bach writers and professional musicians to people who don’t know anything about Bach but follow my blog to provide quality programming for a music-loving patient in an elderly home. There are people who only read the text, and those who start their Sunday or Monday morning by turning on the recording I recommend. How and where do you read and listen? I would love to know! Please share in the comments here below or on my Facebook page. On that Facebook page you can also send a private message if you prefer that.

Wieneke Gorter, January 6, 2018.

New Year’s Day 1725

Happy New Year! It’s still 2017 in California as I am writing this, always a bit strange, this time difference, but it is so great to know that I have readers all over the world, from New Zealand to India to France to Brazil to Canada.

Today’s Cantata 41 Jesu, nun sei gepreiset still has a bit of Christmas in it, especially in the soprano aria with the pastoral accompaniment of the three oboes, and with an orchestration worthy of a feast day: timpani, 3 trumpets, 3 oboes,  violoncello piccolo, plus the regular strings and organ. But that’s about the only relation this cantata has with the Christmas story.

The best recording of this cantata available on YouTube is the one by Koopman. You can listen to it here. Soloists are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Annette Markert, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Klaus Mertens, bass.

Find the German texts with English translations of Cantata 41 here, and the score here.

Normally, on New Year’s Day, it would be time to talk about the name-giving of Jesus (the day of the circumcision), see my New Year’s Day post from last year.  While Bach clearly indicates on the first page of this cantata’s manuscript that it is intended “For the “Feast of the Circumcision,” nothing in the text or music of this cantata refers to this.

This year, Bach and his librettist have chosen to focus on the old year / new year theme instead, the same way they did that yesterday for the more intimate Cantata 122. Is this perhaps another indication that this particular New Year’s, 1725, the time on the calendar was more important than the time in the Lutheran church year?

While yesterday Bach was inspired by the early medieval tradition of conflating Christmas with New Year, today it is all about the “Alpha and Omega,” the beginning and the end, in Bach’s time seen as a symbol for God’s extended care of the people. Eduard van Hengel gives the following examples for this:

  • The closing chorale has as much musical “fanfare” in it as the opening chorus, which is rather unusual for a Bach cantata.
  • The main key of the cantata is C Major, which is at the beginning as well as at the end of the sequence of key signatures.
  • In the alto recitative, which is not in they key of C at all, Bach does move to that key just for the text “A und O,” so that A sounds on a high C and O on a low C.
  • The violoncello piccolo part in the tenor aria requires the full range of the instrument, symbolizing the full extent of God’s care.

Also listen for the brilliant illustrations of Satan in the music of the bass aria: Bach uses “forbidden” intervals, also called “diabolus in musica” (the devil in the music), and writes a very unusual “insert” for the choir in the bass aria on the text “Den Satan unter unsre Füsse treten.”

Wieneke Gorter, December 31, 2017



A somewhat medieval “Rutsch” into 1725


Mystic Nativity by Botticelli, circa 1500. National Gallery, London.

Since I was a very small child, the word “Jubeljahr” (Year of Jubilee) has stood out to me when listening to Cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein. I already mentioned this a bit in my post from last year. So on the second to last day of 2017, I did some research into this concept of Jubeljahr, and realized that perhaps Bach might have liked the word too. Keep reading to find out why.

My favorite recording of this cantata is the one by Herreweghe from 1995 with soprano Vasiljka Jezovsek, alto Sarah Connolly, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Peter Kooij. Find it here on YouTube. Find the text of cantata 122 here, and the score here.

In 1724, just as now in 2017, there was a Sunday in between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which was a first for Bach in Leipzig.* And just as this year, it fell exactly on New Year’s Eve. The upcoming New Year was not just any year. For the Catholic church 1725 was going to be a Holy Year, Year of Jubilee, or “Jubeljahr” as they called it in German.** While Bach was Lutheran, chances are high that he was aware of the Catholic tradition and thus of the extra importance of this last Sunday of the calendar year. The nearby court of Dresden was Catholic, most of the Marian feast days were still celebrated, only a year before Bach had written a Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise) for Christmas, and many medieval customs were still present.

Because of all this, I would like to think that Bach wanted to mark this special occasion, and might have chosen the chorale Das neugeborne Kindelein from 1597 on purpose for his cantata for this day, because of the mention of “Jubeljahr” in the last verse. Whether the original writer of the chorale might have alluded to the Lutheran belief that the union of God with people makes every year a Jubilee, or to the then upcoming Jubilee and turn of the century in 1600, I don’t know. But nowhere else in Bach’s cantata oeuvre is do we see the word “Jubeljahr.”

The text of the chorale builds on the early medieval tradition of melting the story of Jesus’ birth with the celebration of the New Year, talking about the newborn baby Jesus at the same time as announcing that the year has ended and this is a true Jubilee.

However Bach and his librettist don’t go all the way with the medieval world view: They change the original text of the third verse of the chorale, used for the fourth movement of the cantata, Trotz Türken, Papst und Höllen Pfort (Despite Turks,the Pope and the gates of hell) into Trotz Teufel und der Höllen Pfort (Despite the devil and the gates of hell). In 1725 the fear for a Turkish invasion was probably not as palpable as it had been in 1597, when the chorale was originally written.

Other things to listen for in cantata 122: The amazing high c in the soprano recitative. The leap of a fifth from f to c and then the octave back to c in the soprano recitative on the words “Die Engel” (the angels) had actually just occurred one movement earlier, two octaves lower, in the bass aria, on the words “O Menschen” (Oh people). Gardiner says this musical illustration that heaven/angels (high voice and highest instruments: recorders) and earth/people (low voice and cello) become one makes him think of the angels and men hugging in the forefront of Mystic Nativity by Botticelli, and this is why I decided to feature that as the illustration for today’s blog post.

Wieneke Gorter, December 30, 2017

*In 1723, Bach’s first year in Leipzig, the Sunday after Christmas was December 26, Second Christmas Day.

** The concept of “Jubeljahr” comes from the Old Testament, where Leviticus describes that after 7×7 years, you sould celebrate a Year of Jubilee, the 50th year. However in1470 Pope Paul II issued a Bull to fix the Jubilee for every twenty-five years, starting in 1475, so that every generation could have a Jubilee.

Three days of Christmas 1724


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Adoration of the Shepherds, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1638

Merry Christmas!

In Bach’s time, there were three Christmas days. Thanks to a beautiful album by Herreweghe, you can enjoy all cantatas Bach wrote for the consecutive days in 1724 in the order in which Bach wrote them. Or follow these YouTube links for the same recordings:

For Christmas Day: Cantata 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ

For Second Christmas Day: Cantata 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon

For Third Christmas Day: Cantata 133 Ich freue mich in dir

Soloists are: Dorothee Mields, soprano; Ingeborg Danz, alto; Mark Padmore, tenor; Peter Kooy, bass.

If you have recently joined this blog, you might also enjoy reading my Christmas posts from last year: Christmas Day, Second Christmas Day, Third Christmas Day.

Wieneke Gorter, December 19, 2017.

Fourth Sunday of Advent



Bridge over a pond in the winter, Johannapark, Leipzig.


Last week I wrote about Bach’s work load for Christmas 1724 and about there not being any cantatas during Advent in Leipzig in 1724.  I needed to work ahead a bit on the Christmas posts for this year and also needed to enjoy a bit of break with my family. So for today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I refer you to my lovely post from last year about Cantata 132. Enjoy the music!

Wieneke Gorter, December 19, 2017.

Bach’s holiday planning in 1724


Christmas market in Berlin at the end of the 18th century. Leipzig had a Christmas market since the year 458. I don’t know if there was a market during the tempus clausum in 1724.

In Bach’s time in Leipzig, between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day, there was no music allowed in the churches other than singing chorales. This tempus clausum (“closed” time) was also in effect during the 40 days before Easter, and was intended for introspection.

Bach’s employer in Weimar, where he worked from 1708 to 1717, did not impose a tempus clausum for Advent, so there are Advent cantatas from Bach’s Weimar time for the second, third, and fourth Sunday of Advent. For a reconstruction of the cantata that would have sounded in the ducal chapel in Weimar on the third Sunday of Advent in 1716, please read my updated post from last year.

In 1724 the tempus clausum was a welcome break for Bach, because he needed to work ahead and rehearse the choir. While the previous year he had sometimes “recycled” cantatas from Weimar, this year he could not do that. In the summer of 1724 he had started a series of chorale cantatas (read more about that here), and if he wanted to keep composing according to this template, he had to write a brand new work for every feast day.

For the 1724/1725 Christmas season, that schedule would look like this:

Monday Dec 25, Christmas Day: Cantata 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ

Tuesday Dec 26, Second Christmas Day: Cantata 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon

Wednesday Dec 27, Third Christmas Day: Cantata 133 Ich freue mich in dir

Sunday Dec 31, Sunday after Christmas: Cantata 122 Das neugeborene Kindelein

Monday Jan 1, New Year’s Day: Cantata 41 Jesu nun sei gepreiset

Saturday Jan 6, Epiphany: Cantata 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen

Sunday Jan 7, First Sunday after Epiphany: Cantata 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht

Wieneke Gorter, December 17, 2017.


Bonus Advent cantata


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In Leipzig in Bach’s time, the almost period between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas was a “tempus clausum,” when no figural music was allowed in the churches. So if I would follow Bach’s cantata writing in 1724 very strictly, I would not have any music for you today.

So let’s take a detour to 1725. Sometime in that year, Bach wrote a congratulatory cantata for a teacher at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. The cantata, with the title Schwingt freudig euch empor, had nine movements: an opening chorus, four recitatives and three arias. The cantata also featured a closing chorus alternated with recitatives for all the soloists, the way Bach would also use that in the before-last movement of his St. Matthew Passion. For the text of this cantata, please see this entry on Eduard van Hengel’s website. Scroll all the way down to find a table with all the different texts for the different cantatas.

In the fall of 1726, Bach received a request from his previous employer, prince Leopold of Köthen, to write a cantata for this birthday of his second wife, princess Charlotte Friederike Wilhelmine, on November 26 of that year. Scholars think that at the same time Bach was reworking this cantata from 1725 into this Birthday cantata, he was also reworking it into an Advent cantata. However the music of that particular cantata has not survived.

In 1731 Bach again, or finally, was able to make the original of 1725 into an Advent cantata, by replacing all the recitatives with chorales. This is cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor, one of three cantatas for the first Sunday of Advent that have survived. (The other two are Cantata 61 I discussed last year, and Cantata 62 I discussed last week). Again please see Eduard van Hengel’s table of the different texts of all the various cantatas here. Find the English translations of Cantata 36 here, and find the score of Cantata 36 here.

My favorite recording of the entire cantata is the one by Herreweghe from 1997 (from the same album I discussed last week). I like this recording the best because of the most sparkling interpretation of the opening chorus, gorgeous singing by Christoph Prégardien in the tenor solos and by Peter Kooy in the bass aria, and a wonderful soprano/alto duet by Sybilla Rubens and Sarah Connolly. Find this recording here on YouTube. Or follow the links in my post from last week to purchase the entire album of Advent cantatas by Herreweghe. It is a great Christmas gift 🙂 !

If you prefer to watch a live recording, I recommend the one by the J.S. Bach Foundation. They just released the entire video recording of this cantata this week, and this performance contains my absolute favorite interpretation of the soprano aria by Nuria Rial.

Wieneke Gorter, December 9, 2017